British Sailors Revel in Familiar Conditions at St. Pete NOOD

Cold, blustery weather makes for great racing, but plenty of cold extremities during the first day of the 2007 Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta.

St. Pete NOOD 07 Day 1

Stuart Streuli

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.-For the top two finishers in the first Melges 24 race of the 2007 Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta, the blustery, chilly conditions on Tampa Bay felt a lot like home. "It was very similar," said John Pollard, of Torquay, England, who won all three races in the 44-boat fleet and leads the regatta by four points. Eamonn O'Nolan, also of the United Kingdom, finished second in the race. "But we like the warm. That's why we come to Florida."Plenty of the sailors competing in the St. Pete NOOD come here to escape wintertime weather back home. The regatta attracts as high a proportion of out-of-towners as any of the stops on the nine-city NOOD tour. Though it doesn't look like any of the tourists will leave Florida's West Coast with a tan-temperatures are not supposed to break 70 Saturday or Sunday-they won't go home disappointed about the wind. Today the breeze averaged more than 15 knots, with plenty of more substantial gusts. Saturday is looking a little lighter, with even more wind expected on Sunday. In that regard, the weather is a welcome change from last year, when fog and no wind allowed for racing on only one of the three days. But it's still cold. The type of cold that numbs hands, dulls reflexes and motivation, and makes for plenty of sore bodies piling up to the bar after sailing. Despite their love of the warm weather, Pollard and his team seemed unaffected by these trying conditions as they dominated what is usually the St. Pete NOOD's biggest and deepest class.Even more impressive, the team is new for this regatta. Pollard said he has traditionally sailed with four people on the Melges 24, but wanted to try sailing with five at a few regattas this year, replacing a 220-pound ex-Laser champ with two lighter sailors. "The main thing is," he said, "if there's a problem, it takes one person to go fix it. It's either a heavier person [if you're sailing with four] or a lighter person [if you're sailing with five.]"When pressed further on what worked well today, Pollard said they felt they had the boat set up really well for the conditions. "Speed does make you look smart," he said. "For the third race, it was a little lighter at the start, so we backed off some of the rig tension and we were very fast. Then the sun came out, the wind increased, as predicted, and we struggled a little bit on the second beat. So we went back to max for the third beat."The result was their third win in three races. Ordinarily, that scoreline would amount to a healthy lead. But former Swiss Finn star Othmar Mueller von Blumencron, now of Virginia, is close on Pollard's heels with seven points. Bob Dockery's Barracuda is in third with 13 points.Another British team that started the regatta on a positive note was the Sonar crew of John Robertson, which won the first race, then added a third and a second and has a 4-point lead in the 7-boat class. For Robertson, a 2004 Paralympian, this regatta is as much about training as competing and he hopes to emerge from the three-day event with a better feel for sailing in the sort of short chop that Tampa Bay serves up nearly every day. "It's just something we don't get at home, the short chop," said Robertson, lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident in 1994. "We did the Rolex Miami OCR and struggled a little bit in the chop and we need to improve on that. The Sonar is pretty blunt as a boat, so unless you keep it driving, you go sideways. We got it pretty much figured out in the third race."Robertson and his team, which includes Hannah Stodel and Stephen Thomas-they have an fourth sailor, John Tait, on board to help with the spinnaker in this regatta-finished sixth in the 2004 Paralympics. He called the finish a disappointment, but then added that they had only been together as a team for a year before the Games and had probably set their expectations too high. Robertson is hoping that the breeze moderates a bit Saturday, but that the chop remains. Light and lumpy is a favorite of few sailors, but it's one condition that he knows he'll need to master to contend for a gold in Qingdao in 2008.The 2007 Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta runs through Sunday.